Reservoir Mum’s in London for ten days and I’m single parenting my way to unconsciousness thanks to a Maki and Tyson hell-night on top of my long personal history of insomnia.
I’ve just dropped Maki off at kinder so that he can assault icy pole sticks with glitter-clag and pieces of felt and I’m only ten minutes from dropping Archie and Lewis and Tyson off at Primary school and it’s as I’m reminding myself to make the most of my 90 minute block of free time – by hightailing it home after the school drop-off to listen to some Madonna while rolling my stomach in front of the mirror – that Lewis says, ‘Dad, yesterday one of the preps from Tyson’s class told him to bend one of Michael’s Yu-Gi-Oh card.’
‘Please tell me you didn’t bend Michael’s Yu-Gi-Oh card,’ I say, eyeballing Tyson through the rear vision mirror as I simultaneously turn the volume up to give this conversation a sound track.
‘I did,’ Tyson says, smiling at me like he’s just woken up from a summer siesta. ‘I did it.’
‘He did it,’ Lewis says. ‘I told him not to do it but he did it anyway.’
‘Yeah,’ Tyson says, shaking his head disbelievingly, hands raised, palms up, like he’s talking about some other crazy person. “I did it anyway.’
‘Great,’ I say, rubbing at the windscreen to wipe away a smudge before realising it’s my own eyeballs making the scenery blurry. ‘So I ask Tyson not to tell me he bent the Yu-Gi-Oh cards and then you, Lewis, tell me he did do it, and you, Tyson, tell me you did do it three whole times. You know what?’ I continue, with little forethought. ‘Sesame Street needs to stop wasting time with their “people in your neighbourhood” jingles and start teaching kids to listen. Yeah. Stick that in your Snuffleupagus and smoke it… oh my God this song is so great…’
The hit classic I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty is unfortunately half finished but it’s good enough to make me feel almost semi-conscious because it’s the very song that me and my school mate Rangi were listening to when we first got drunk camping in the bush of Victoria’s Snake Valley. We felt the influence of others from school and put pressure on each other to drink and I realise that these memories are about as relevant to this conversation as relevant gets because it was after a long week of egging each other on and shaming each other as cowards that we smuggled a bottle of Vodka into our back packs. While our Dads sat around the camp fire thinking we were just listening to some cool tunes and playing paper scissors rock, we were getting totally shit faced and hyper-emotional and that’s how Tom Petty became a significant player in my childhood and is probably also the reason that I’m licking my lips for vodka right at this very moment. The significance switches me on just enough to attempt a serious discussion with the boys.
‘Tys, don’t let people tell you to do naughty things. People who tell you to do naughty things are not being very nice. In fact, it’s a kind of bullying because they want to get you in trouble and laugh at you. It’s called peer pressure and once, when I was in grade two, this kid took my sandwich and squashed it and… ‘
‘Chips and Nuggets!’ Tyson screams as we drive past a Macdonald’s Restaurant.
‘Oh my God,’ I say. ‘Another great song!’
The new song is More More More by Andrea True Connection and it makes me think of Date Night and RM and because there are eight long nights until we get to see each other again I remind myself – as a way of communicating a secret in-house sexy message to her – to include the line ‘my pants are chafing me’ in my next blog post.
‘Dad,’ Archie says, from the back seat. ‘What did you say… beer pressure?’
‘Peer pressure, Arch,’ I say, shimmying in my seat like a demon. ‘But it’s funny you said beer because peer pressure is one of the reasons that young kids make the mistake of drinking alcohol or taking drugs. It’s also one of the main reasons that teens start walking around with their arse cracks showing, or get killed drag racing in cars, or end up with um… gonorrhea. We really should talk about that soon.’
‘What is it?’ Archie asks again.
When I open my mouth to answer Archie’s question a yawn escapes that is so powerful I feel like I have a flip-top head and have to angle myself to keep one eyeball on the road and under this kind of pressure it’s no surprise that the best definition I can come up with for peer pressure is chicken nuggets. My mouth is hanging open as I search for something better. ‘Peer pressure is… ‘
‘I meant gonorrhea,’ Archie says.
‘What? I’m really not capable of getting into gonorrhea right now. Jesus, where’d you hear about gonorrhea?’
‘Gonorrhea!’ Tyson says, punching the air and tearing at Lewis’s school jumper.
‘What Dad?’ Lewis says. ‘What?’
‘Well, peers are the people you hang out with, okay? Like your friends at school. And peer pressure is how they make you feel… um… pressure… to do things you don’t really want to do. Geez, this is hard to explain. Like, you know, they might come up and say, “Hey Archie, drink this beer. It’s really delicious. Everyone’s doing it. You’re not anyone unless you drink beer” and even though you know drinking beer is bad you do it anyway because you want your friends to like you and you want to be part of the group.‘
‘I’m never drinking beer,’ Lewis screams as he pushes Tyson’s school bag into his face.
‘Is that why you drink beer Dad?’ Archie asks.
‘Yes, I think that’s how it started Archie,’ I say, as I count the nights I have to wait until my next White Russian and oh my god – the coffee Kahlua in the creamy milk with the tang of vodka and the way the ice hits the glass all tinkle-tinkle! ‘My friends and I felt pressure to drink alcohol because so many kids were doing it in high school. And then we pressured each other to drink by calling each other chickens and wussbags and, god…’ I continue, as the cogs in my braincase finally start to turn. ‘… we even used to call each other girls, like that was a bad thing.’
‘Are you going to stop drinking beer?’
As we turn into that final roundabout towards school Archie’s question and RM’s absence and my chronic sleep deprivation combine with the opening chords of I’m Every Woman by Chaka Kahn to make me feel a little melancholy; which affects me like a truth serum. ‘I drank alcohol way too early, when I was waaay too young, and the truth is, because alcohol has been in my life for so long I think I would struggle to give it up completely. And that’s why I worry about you boys at school when I hear about peer pressure and Yu-Gi-Oh cards.’
When I look into the rear vision mirror I see Archie and Lewis looking my way and playing close attention and, after a silent thankyou to Sesame Street for all they’ve done, I decide to lift my vision from my tiredness and melancholy and to add a little bit more to this discussion. ‘I’m lucky enough to have some important people in my life that stop me from drinking too much,’ I say. ‘I have you boys to think about every day and I couldn’t be the best Dad for you if I was drinking too much. I have your Mum to think about and I couldn’t love her properly if I was drinking every day….’
‘And you have to write stories,’ Archie says.
‘Yeah and cook us dinner, Dad,’ Lewis says.
Their perspective charges me with emotion as I pull the reins on the Mighty Tarago and come to a stop outside the Primary School. They’re like cute little meerkats standing on a mound of dirt and taking in everything the landscape offers them and I’m hoping that presenting myself this honestly is the best way to help them see the predators and the pitfalls well in advance, and more clearly. At the very least it has to be a more effective approach than getting all stern-faced and saying, ‘Don’t drink or take drugs’ while they watch me mix myself White Russians on the weekend and anyway, this is the beginning of an ongoing discussion that may last many years and I have that confirmed to me when Tyson starts nodding and says, in a sympathy-dripping tone, ‘Dad, you can have some beer…’ and when I look past him as he climbs the centre row of seats to hit the Primary School footpath I see Archie staring out the window, looking a little confused, his Google finger twitching, mouthing the word gonorrhea.
‘Alright let’s go boys!’ I yell, and the mad scramble officially begins.
It’s going to be okay. I’ll commit myself to these discussions whenever they arise and the world will settle out in front of me and my family like a freshly flung blanket. And anyway, between now and all of that, is the ninety minutes of Madonna I have coming to me. It’s time to do some stomach rolling!
And man, these pants are chafing me!